Stealing Little Ideas From Big Business 1/2

So the term is properly underway and everything is going well. Hopefully. To be honest I feel like I’ve made a really constructive start to the year and hopefully my mythical readers have too. Of course, because I’m working well, getting my marking done and staying on top of the various projects I seem to have volunteered for, I’ve not posted for much too long. Bad teacher. No apple.

Instead of a long post about something – and I have several I’m thinking through, hopefully soon to appear – I thought I’d share some of the little things, ideas and strategies I realised I took for granted after a conversation with a colleague. Most of these, as the title suggests, are things I’ve pinched from the corporate world. I’ve never really done the ‘office thing’ but somehow I’ve picked these up over the years.

Interruptions Log

For an open-plan office drone or overworked division head, this strategy can be highly effective. That doesn’t mean we should ignore it – we just change it to suit us. The idea is that by recording a few basic facts about each interruption to their workflow, somebody can see who is breaking their chain of thought and why. The articles you can find about it quote all kinds of statistics about how often interruptions happen and how much time they waste. In teaching the problem is just as real, but students (let’s ignore the boss breaking up your marking with extra jobs) often have valid reasons for asking their questions.

You can do this for your whole day, or choose a specific class where you feel you never really get momentum going because of constant interruptions. Keep a record of each interruption, listing who it was, what they asked, and how important it was. You can review the sheet after the lesson or at the end of the day, but leaving it longer will give you more reliable data. This should show you where the issues are:

  • Do you need to give clearer information?
  • Do resources or support material (e.g. dictionaries) need to be made more accessible to students?
  • Are there pupils who are needier than you had realised, or are some of them simply procrastinating?

This can then lead you into teaching students some useful study skills, starting by outlining the 4Bs (Brain, Book, Buddy, and only then Boss). Getting them to see you as one of several ways to solve an impasse can be useful in getting students to work more independently. For able pupils who ask interesting but only tangentially relevant questions, ask them to write down what they want to figure out. At a more convenient point, they can ask you for some suggestions in starting off their own research, working from their key words or scribbled query.

Setting Personal Aims

I know we’re all supposed to write an objective (or two) on the board for each lesson. I do tend to share the lesson objectives with my students, even though it’s more likely to be verbal than written. But here I’m talking about setting yourself particular targets so you can feel like you’ve achieved something.

This might be in lessons – to give personalised praise to every student in the class over a week, perhaps. It might be to provide extension links for each of your classes on your VLE, updated each fortnight. Perhaps you want to choose a topic that interests you and do a decent revamp of the scheme of work, just because it desperately needs it. It doesn’t matter what the aim is. Just set one.

The other thing I’ve started to do is write myself a couple of aims before a meeting or phone call. It’s amazing how easy it is to get off topic, especially when you spend ages waiting for other points to be sorted out or for the voice menus to stop playing you bad music. Having that aim recorded at the top of your agenda, so you know exactly what you personally want to get out of this, can really help.

Email Is Not Your Boss

I’m a big fan of email used effectively in schools. In fact, I would love for more material to be distributed electronically rather than shoved in my pigeonhole. It is, however, important to realise that email can usually wait. If it’s really that important, I know that someone will phone the prep room next to my lab, or actually visit. I’m not that hard to find (except when I’m hiding because reports are due – another valuable strategy!) so why should I interrupt what I’m doing to check an email?

The best way to handle email is to find a time, ideally towards the end of a day, and do the lot. Read them through in turn and follow your standard rules for dealing with them. Mine are here. A good rule is to file them (possibly after answering) if you need to be able to see them again. I know that good email systems are supposed to be searchable, but the one my workplace isn’t, so I have about a dozen archive folders (year team, department, etc etc) where I move emails after reading. Consider aiming for ‘Inbox Zero’, where everything is either dealt with, filed or added to your Actions list rather than left to fester in your Inbox.

I try not to check my email every time I get a new one. I’d switch off the notification if I could. This means I can spend a concentrated period of time on emails at a convenient time, rather than stopping a lesson plan or research to read an email telling me something I don’t need to know. This is much more efficient and, as a bonus, means that half the time a problem has been resolved by someone else.

Never check your email last thing in the evening either. Either dealing with new mail will delay you, or you’ll be worrying about it over night. There are better things to do with the last few minutes of your working day than be setting yourself up to worry about the next one.

Another 3 to follow in a couple of days…

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